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Delay in Bilingual Rules Provokes Ire, Will Affect Grants for 1985

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Washington--A delay within the Education Department on the writing of regulations for the new bilingual-education law means that about $95 million in competitive grants will be awarded this year on the basis of administrative rules.

The unusual delay prompted two key Congressmen to write a letter of protest earlier this month to former Acting Secretary of Education Gary L. Jones. They charged that the department's inaction "completely disregards the intent" of the statute as rewritten last year by the Congress and will confuse grant applicants.

Mr. Jones subsequently rebuked the department's director of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, Jesse M. Soriano, for failing to draft the new regulations for internal consideration and review.

The New Statute

Last year, the Congress overhauled the bilingual-education law, which was due to expire, replacing it with a highly prescriptive statute, P.L. 98-511, which was incorporated in Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The detailed nature of the statute makes it "probably the easiest law in the world to write regulations for," asserted James J. Lyons, legislative counsel for the National Association of Bilingual Education.

But Mr. Soriano cited "extensive changes" in the law as the main cause of the delay in writing new rules.

The new act allows, for the first time, federal funds to be used for diverse teaching techniques and increases by $5 million the amount earmarked for teacher training and technical assistance.

But the Reagan Administration opposes key provisions of the new statute. According to its fiscal 1986 budget proposal, the Administration will seek to lift the ceiling on funding for "alternative approaches to bilingual education, such as English as a second language and immersion."

Mr. Soriano, in an interview, dismissed suggestions that the delay in completing regulations was connected to the Administration's political goals.

He noted that the department would publish rules within 240 days after the Congress's approval of the law--the deadline set under the General Education Provisions Act. According to Mr. Jones, the final rules will be published by June 14. These will apply to fiscal 1986 awards.

Interim Rules

Interim rules for awarding the fiscal 1985 grants to school districts will probably be published within 30 days, according to A. Neal Shedd, director of the Education Department's division of regulations management.

They will be based on the Education Department General Administrative Regulations [edgar], which outline the procedure for awarding grants, and will rely on the language of the new law for substantive matters.

Department officials said they are using this "Band-Aid approach"--in the words of one--to allow applicants to begin preparing requests for the competitive grants now, rather than in the spring, when the final rules will be published.

Mr. Shedd said the department "very seldom" uses edgar to award grants in major competitive programs.

edgar Questioned

Mr. Soriano said he has "no problem" applying edgar to the fiscal 1985 awards. Under edgar, he said, "We will have to adhere to the statute absolutely."

But two key Democratic members of the House Education and Labor Committee charged that "without regulations, applicants will have no guidance on how to structure their proposals or how program content will be evaluated."

"In addition, there are no means of assuring the quality of funded applications if grants are awarded without regulations," wrote Representatives Augustus F. Hawkins of California, chairman of the panel, and Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, in a Feb. 5 letter to Mr. Jones.

"In order to carry out the revisions [made by the Congress last year] and take advantage of the new options available, applicants need specific information on program requirements," they wrote.

By using edgar criteria, the Congressmen charged, the department "completely disregards the intent" of the shapers of the statute.

The failure to have completed rules for the new grants constitutes "an almost unprecedented deviation from established procedure," asserted Mr. Lyons of the National Association of Bilingual Education.

Luis Vazquez, a bilingual-education official in Dade County, Fla., remarked that "as long as we don't know the law, it's very difficult to assess the needs for the application."

The school system has one Title VII-supported program, a $160,000-a-year computer-literacy initiative that serves students in six public schools and one private school, according to Mr. Vazquez.

Jones Cites Delay

In a memorandum to Mr. Soriano, dated Feb. 4, Mr. Jones criticized the bilingual-education office for "failing to meet its commitment to provide draft [regulations]" for internal departmental review on a timely basis.

"Consequently, I am directing you to cancel, as of today, all previously approved leave, training, and travel for your professional and clerical employees responsible for regulations development," Mr. Jones wrote. "In addition, no further leave, travel, or training should be approved until all regulations necessary to implement Title VII have been transmitted to omb [the Office of Management and Budget]."

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